17th January 2006
Certain rules have to be followed with my father for birthdays and one is that he likes his balloons and jelly. Thus JJ and I had taken balloons with us along with party blowers so we could annoy them by making duck noises outside the adjoining door. One wonders what other clients thought of all these carryings-on.
As his birthday treat we were taking him to the Salt Mines at Wieliczka. In August it had been pouring with rain but today it was just snow. In August the place had been packed with hundreds of tourists in their coaches; today there were about forty of us waiting on the English speaking guide and the descent of the eight hundred and thirty odd stairs.
The St Kinga chapel was decorated with nativity scenes created by local children. It was too dark to get decent photographs and as it is not practical to even think of lugging a tripod away on holiday you just have to make do. The video came out better.
At the end of the two kilometre walk you finish up about 105 metres under the ground and waiting on the lift to take you back up again. The lift is a four tiered miners’ cage which takes nine people if they have been doing a lot of exercise ! I must admit I hadn’t fully explained to my mother exactly how you got back up top.
We paused for photos outside the mine and caught our, standing room only, mini bus back into town.
Back on the main square again we decided that a second round of hot apple cake or chocolate gateau sounded like a very good idea.
Whilst walking down the street towards the hotel we had passed a couple of pizza houses and my father expressed an interest in having pasta for dinner. We looked through the restaurant guide and found one on the main square that looked reasonably priced and easy to find.
Having had a few hours rest in the hotel (which for two of the group meant sitting in the bar with beers) we walked back up into town to see the illuminations and find our restaurant. The streets were all very pretty with large angels at every few hundred metres along the garden circle, and the main lights in the square were blue cones which were very unusual.
In searching for our pizza house my father saw a small crochet angel in the window of a boutique. He immediately decided that this would be a lovely gift for his six year old grand daughter, Lauren; as and when we had the chance to come back up when the shop was open.
We eat very well and how the average human being could eat a pizza larger than the one I had, I have no idea, but they were offered for sale. My parents’ lasagne did have to go back to be brought up to hot as opposed to warm, but that was the only blip on the meal. We even managed a carafe of red wine at a sensible price as opposed to the forty Euros demanded in some places. Vodka and beer is very cheap in Poland, wine isn’t.
18th January 2006
Each morning JJ had asked me if it had snowed, but finally on the Wednesday I could say: “Yes, it is snowing.”
Once more armed against the elements we left the hotel and waited today on our transport for our visit to Auschwitz (Photos on another page).
On returning to the city I suggested that as JJ was looking to take back cups and saucers as gifts, it might be better to pick them up at the end of the day to save carrying breakables about.
We picked up a few things in the Cloth Hall and my father said that they were going to take a walk round the square to look for the shop where we had seen the wee angel in the window the night before. We would meet there.
The only problem to this arrangement was that I knew where the shop was, but they never found it and ended up somewhere else on this 400 × 400 metre square.
JJ and I waited and waited; I sent JJ out to walk round the square but there was still no sign of my parents. They, in fact, had decided to try the biscuit shop on the way to the hotel. After about an hour I decided that the only thing to do was to go back to the hotel; where we found that they had arrived in just before us. All’s well that ends well.
19th January 2006
Our final full day started with a visit to Wawel castle and the cathedral. Our route took us past the now famous courtyard where Schindler’s List was filmed, so we paused for a photo opportunity, and then continued our way up the hill to Wawel.
Once again I was struck by the differences between winter and summer. As opposed to having to wait an hour or so to be able to visit the State Apartments, the allocated visiting time was so quick poor old JJ neither had the time to get to the toilet or smoke.
Some of the Police on patrol in the castle were looking rather foundered as the snow fell round them. It wasn’t heavy snow, but fairly constant; pretty for those of us not used to it, but not much fun for those working in it.
In front of the cathedral a group of men were clearing part of the footpath, and one of them was astute enough to realise that if he started at the point furthest away from the truck, the others would all be shovelling at least twice as much as he was as he walked backwards and forwards.
We visited the Royal Tombs down in the crypt of the cathedral and then climbed the tower to see Zigmunt’s bell. I had warned my mother that despite it being a bit of a clamber between beams at some stages the staircase looks a lot more solid than some I have been on and certainly doesn’t end up with a ladder.
At the top we all touched the eight tonne bell’s clapper and made our wishes before looking out across the roof tops towards a snowy Linen Hall. It is a known fact that almost all wishes made under the bell do in fact come true — almost certainly because most visitors are wishing that it doesn’t fall on them.
Taking our last few photos we walked back up into the town centre to buy the now infamous crocheted angel for Lauren. JJ had an immense pleasure in pointing the shop out.
We now caught our only tram of the holiday to take us down and across the river into the area of the old Jewish ghetto at Podgórze. I wanted to show the others part of the old ghetto wall and then walk down to Oskar Schindler’s factory.
JJ was a bit upset to find that all he could do was look at it from the outside, but whilst we were peering through the gates the keeper came out and invited us in to take a look.
He allowed us up the famous staircase and into the office which was much smaller than the way it is presented in the film. There is a book there which we signed and we made our way back out again.
My mother was rather surprised when the old boy kissed her hand on parting, and he in turn smiled in surprise when Jean-Jacques said thank you and goodbye in Polish.
That evening — having asked our barman Sebastian where would be a reasonable place to eat we walked round the corner to a small Polish Café. Obviously intended to serve food for people on the move, what we ordered arrived very quickly, but it was good food, very filling and very cheap.
The following day it was the tramp back to the airport and the return flight home — everything delayed because of the weather. Ever since as the snow has arrived back home and we start to complain, we take a moment’s pause and remember what real snow is like !
Posted : 17 January 2006